OK Fine, It’s Me

It was confirmed to me this weekend that I am, indeed, a coastal elite.

How else to account for my amusement and constant head-nodding recognition of me and mine while watching HBO’s sort of movie/Zoom session/play turned into a cable film of the same name?

Guilty as charged

Written by Paul Rudnick, a guy who is funny but yet not someone whose work I’ve ever much liked (In and Out, Adams Family Values, even his gay play/movie Jeffrey didn’t speak to me with much honesty),  no one is more surprised by my reaction to his above mentioned – okay, let’s just call it a Zoom-A-Thon – than liberal me.

Of course, that could be the reason.  Because these days I find that I’m not really liberal at all.  That’s how well I know myself.

Instead, I’ve been categorized as a slightly left of center traditional Democratic voting white guy with privilege who has spent the majority of his charmed life living  in big cities on either coast.  Sure, I sweat about things but mostly I rant, complain and sort of stand up for my principles when and if I’m pushed hard enough – but only if that push is a shove.

At least I still look cute

Granted, I am some of those things on any given day.  I mean, which of us does not embody some stereotype of our particular census group at a specific moment in time.  But I’m also a lot more than that.  Plenty more.  Not to mention I stand up for sh-t far more than my friends and family would like.  And often in public.

This seems to be the issue the majority of critics are having with Coastal Elites. It presents as five separate monologues by the kind of people I know or have met or might cross paths with, via what looks like five separate socially distanced chats, four of them on Zoom.

The Fab Five

The monologues are incredibly well-delivered by the likes of Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson and Kaitlyn Dever.  In turn, they play a NY Jewish “liberal” retired teacher gone ballistic; a gay unemployed actor melting down in West Hollywood; a philanthropist trust fund kid trying to contain her fury and fears; an online meditation guru unhappily dealing with her conservative family; and a thoroughly overwhelmed Wyoming nurse temporarily working in a New York City hospital.

With that cast playing those characters, all in the midst of this mess of 2020 politics and pandemic, how could you go wrong?

Okay, the truth is most critics, social media commenters and audiences have had it with Zoom.  Isn’t it enough we have to live it?  Must we now have it shoved down our throats in a cable movie?  What could possibly be fun or even meaningful about SEEING that small screen on our clearly larger screen.

Sorry, Marcia. #moreofaJanfan

Right, I get that but mostly, well, I don’t.  I’ve sort of come to appreciate Zoom communication.  For one thing, it sure beats sitting in a meeting live with lots of people you’d prefer not to ever have to deal with again live, or at least pretend to enjoy sitting through or next to at any office meeting.

Zoom or otherwise!

Would that you could turn off your inner camera and actually disappear from a room.  How cool would that be?

For another, Zoom has gotten us all to learn a piece of technology we all would have previously avoided like, well…the plague.

Sorry, too soon?

Well, that seems to be the problem for many of the naysers.  The tone of Coastal Elites is somewhere between comedy and drama.  A mix of theatre tweaked laugh lines honed for TV that move the tone up, down, around and through everything from the Menace that is POTUS, the pandemic that will soon have killed 200,000 Americans (Note: Yay, we’re #1! 😒) and the existential angst that only elites like me and these characters have the time to worry about.

My new inspirational poster

I don’t know, after spending the last six months working and living at home, and being told by medical professionals that in the next 12 months don’t count on the prospects being much better, I’m getting a bit freaked out in the mind here.  What the f-k is wrong with characters that feel the same way?  And since when can’t social commentary be, um, amusing and yet on another level, be about something?

Remember the Tony Award-winning play Six Degrees of Separation?  Sure, it was a lousy movie but the source material was pretty good.  And speaking of lousy movies most of the critics once thought was meaningful, have you seen the Oscar-winning best picture Crash lately?  Or revisited the Oscar-nominated Grand Canyon?

Perhaps those critics should (Note:  But you don’t have to, save yourself) and not get back to me.

Don’t even get me started

Bette Midler delivers one of her best screen performances in years as this New York Jewish lady of a certain age coastal elite.  Someone who couldn’t contain herself any longer and ripped that red MAGA hat right off the head of the smirking, Trump-loving provocateur who dared cross the line with her at her local Manhattan Starbucks.

I knew that woman and love that woman because, well, I AM that woman.  Or my mother and aunt sort of were.

Well, now I’m just being redundant.

In addition, who better but Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy to be an out gay actor fretting about queer representation at his most recent audition.  Try not thinking about your gayness with White, I mean, Mike Pence in and around the White House.

I never would’ve imagined Issa Rae playing a wealthy young woman who went to boarding school with Ivanka Trump but that’s probably because I have a middle-aged, late sixties/early seventies view of who went to boarding school.  If anything, that makes me far, far, FAR from being part of any elite.

She sure is

Sarah Paulson can make us believe pretty much anything but presenting this sort of new age guru who can barely deal with her Trump-loving family in the Midwest on a recent trip was an unlikely yet kind-of-inspired juxtaposition with a twist.

And in the clean up position, Kaitlyn Dever really delivers as a young, out-of-town nurse working in a NYC hospital at the height of COVID in April.  The young star of Netflix’s Unbelievable as well as last year’s best buddy flick, Booksmart, more than anyone else, brought a certain kind of even-handed pathos that was able to wrap up the show and make it, in total, much more of a journey than simply a series of rants and clever monologues.

A star on the rise

But that’s my take.  One from a coastal elite who is clearly the target audience for this type of thing. So sue me if these days we want some meaning but also want to be amused for just a few secs on and off.   That doesn’t minimize the issues if, at the same time, you accept that no one piece of art can possibly generate the depth to deal with it all, or even huge chunks of it, effectively.

You can’t even address it all on social media, try as so many of us might, and think as so many of us do.

Me, on my better days

Take it from the source but to my mind what myself and likely more than a few of those non-elites out there are looking for right now onscreen, in a movie (Note: Remember those?) are at least a few glimpses of  honesty – a sense of some angsty reality mixed in with… maybe a smile or two we may, or likely may not, be getting in real life.

If that doesn’t please the critics, well, tough sh-t as me and mine might say.  It certainly gave me/us some relief and something to think about for 90 minutes.

Bette Midler – “One Fine Day”

Oscar, the hero

Oscar-statuette-001

The 86th annual Oscar nominations were revealed this week and it might comfort everyone to know that along with them was the announcement that the theme of this year’s show will be — MOVIE HEROES!  Hmm.  And I always thought it was excellence.  Silly me.

Of course, the Oscars have never been solely about excellence and those who are nominated and win awards in their categories are not necessarily THE best in the world at what they do – even though one or two can be.  In that way, they’re a lot like life.  Those who are paid the highest salaries, receive all the adulation and consistently seem to be the most in-demand are on top due to a lot more (and sometimes less) than great work.  So why would it be any different in, of all places, Hollywood?

Aside from skill and talent (Note: In order to be considered outstanding and award-winning by the status quo both are essential to posses in some form, though usually on a sliding scale of merely average to outstanding), there is also luck, timing, fate, ambition, single-minded focus and hard, very hard, and very, very hard labor involved.  Remove any one or more of these and the balance can be tipped for or against you not only on the most iconic awards stage in the world but in any other stage of life you find yourself playing in for all of eternity.

Like this girl... she never sleeps.

You know she never sleeps.

Anyone employed in an office where they’ve done a great job but find themselves now under-employed or denied the promotion they deserve by any objective standard, knows this to be true.    Well, the movie industry is no different than that office except with a lot better clothes, more money and an excess of fantasy-provoking public attention.

This is not to say your boss is an idiot and is being carried by you and the rest of the staff – though he or she can be.  And it also not to proclaim that Oscar nominees and winners are sorely undeserving of that recognition – though that can also be true.  It is simply to say that, as my father declared to me long ago and at the time I steadfastly refused to believe:

Life is not always fair.  And if you compare yourself to others – like award nominees or winners – you are sure to end your day in abject misery.

Note: To be fair, I think Dad simply said you’ll be unhappy. But as a writer, abject misery sounds so much better to me – which should be a lesson within itself.

Of course, knowing all of this intellectually doesn’t in any way prevent any of us, particularly me, from whining, moaning, complaining and being periodically or endlessly obsessed for at least a day about the injustice of the Oscar nominations this week.  As for other things in life – well, aside from Chris Christie – was there anything else really even going on?

Oh, don’t even try to deny it and DO NOT write in arguing with me about our mass reaction to the nominations because there are two reasons I know this is true.

1. Of all the photos I have ever posted on Facebook or have ever been posted about me on Facebook the only one that has EVER received over 500 likes and hits was that snapshot of myself and my partner in tuxedos at the Academy Awards two years ago posed in front of a large 10 foot tall fake Oscar.

The famous shot

The famous shot

This says everything about you and what you like out there and less about me.  Though, can you imagine if I were even nominated or had actually….won that night?  I would’ve long ago reached that 5000 Facebook friend limit and might have to start having my assistant return or not return your texts, emails or, perish the thought, phone calls.  Though I suppose I could simply take to Twitter so u can stay abreast with what I’m doing at random hours of the day or night. @Cher @EllenBarkin @MiaFarrow R U #Listening?

2. The most bizarre memory I have as a young person in Hollywood was being pressed up against 1948 best actress Oscar winner Loretta Young in a tiny elevator backstage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the early 1980s after covering my first Academy Awards as a reporter.  She had presented best picture, I was done phoning in stories to the desk at Variety, and the two of us plus 25 other very desperate people would have done a lot more to get out of there after four and a half hours in luxury hell.  Rammed against her sequined dress with my eyes almost touching her neck I found myself searching for plastic surgery scars out of sheer nervous boredom.  And, I’m happy to report, could find none.  And yes, I know this story says more about me than it does you but it still feels relevant to what one really remembers about the industry when all is said and done.

Okay – now that we’ve established my and your obsession with these awards, let’s examine (nee – take apart) this year’s just a little bit.

A. HEROES IS THE THEME? – I’d fully expect to see Batman walking hand in hand with Atticus Finch were Gregory Peck still alive and either Christian Bale, George Clooney or Michael Keaton were still willing to put on the suit outside of a studio soundstage.  (No, Ben Affleck doesn’t count – he’s not Batman – yet).   Since no portion of that can realistically happen, why oh why do we need a…. THEME?  This isn’t an amusement park or….. wait…. okay, it is a bit of an amusement park – point well taken.  Still, the show’s producers explained that “We wanted to unify the show with an entertaining and emotional theme.”  How odd to publicly admit that movies themselves have ceased to do this for audiences as a whole.  And how much do I want my personal movie hero, Mary Poppins, to make an appearance this year even though the film about her origins, Saving Mr. Banks, was totally ignored by the Oscars.

Don't drag me into this, Chairy.

Don’t drag me into this, Chairy.

B. HYPER REALITY – We seem more and more to live in either a virtual world or a fake version of reality so why shouldn’t the most popular movies of this year be reflective of that.  Consider all of the hyper texts of four of the films that will battle it out for best picture of 2013 – American Hustle, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave and Wolf Of Wall Street.  They are adrenalin-fueled versions of the highest of the high and the lowest of the low moments in human existence.  They leave no room at all for anything small or basic or simple.  Clearly, that’s out of fashion.  And don’t tell me that there are five other movies competing– Philomena, Her, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club and Captain Phillips – that are smaller and more basic.  They have NO chance of winning and have none of the urgent buzz of the moment.  Mostly because they dare not to be as flashy.

Ahem... cough.. cough... Remember me?

Ahem… cough.. cough… Remember me?

C. NINE BEST PICTURES BUT FIVE BEST DIRECTORS? – Clearly, those four other nominated movies either directed themselves or don’t deserve to be singled out as the best.  OK, Let’s just admit it – it’s the latter.   When the Motion Picture Academy decided several years ago to broaden the amount of nominees in the best picture category from 5 to a possible 10 (depending on the number of votes each nominee gets) it felt a bit forced.  By whom I’m not sure but it certainly seems clear that the more movies that can slap an Oscar nominated Best Picture tag on its advertising the more chance it has to make money.  Not to mention the greater potential of better ratings for the broadcast of the Academy Awards since then there is a likelihood that with more nominees there will be more blockbuster films in contention that more members of the massive worldwide audience will watch.  This in turn translates into higher ad rates charged for the show and more money for everyone all around.  And you thought this was just about hero worship.

D.  FRUITVALE STATION and SHORT TERM 12These are two of my top ten movies this year.  Hell, they are two of the ten best movies this year by any measure (Note: if you disagree, you are just plain wrong).  Yet between both of them they have 0.0 Oscar nominations.  Now let’s see – what do they have in common?  Well, they are both very simple stories, unadorned by irony, over-the-top moments of stylized frenzy and technical effects or cutting edge cinematography and special effects.  What movie world are Academy members living in?  Has it really only been several years since Beasts of the Southern Wild and Precious were nominated in multiple categories?  When did more become…MORE.

E. OSCAR ISAAC – I was at the Motion Picture Academy screening of the Coen Bros. Inside Llewyn Davis last month and I could immediately tell from the confused and somewhat tepid reaction among the majority of the audience of people who I was even younger than – that the film’s Oscar chances were nill.

Well there's a performance we won't see on TV now..

Well there’s a performance we won’t see on TV now..

However, what I felt sure of was that the tour de force performance of Mr. Isaac as the title character – a brilliantly talented folksinger in 1961 Greenwich Village who offstage was consistently his own worst enemy –would be given Oscar love.  Isn’t it enough to command the screen in almost every scene, do all of your own singing quite brilliantly, and be charismatic enough to make even the most esoteric moments of a very unusual movie work in your first starring role?  As Amy Winehouse once sang: No, no, no.

F. BEST PERFORMER? – MSNBC pundit Krystal Ball (yes, that’s her real name) asked a guest on The Cycle on the day of the nominations if there wasn’t something a bit retro about the fact that the Academy Awards have separate categories for male and female actors.  Think about it – there is not a category for best female designer, editor, writer, producer or director?  Why are we still separating the sexes this way and what does it say about the rest of us that we don’t even question it?

I have to reluctantly admit that this has never occurred to me because, well, it’s just the way we do it – right?  Uh, well, that logic would then mean a marriage should be solely between a man and a woman and you KNOW that I don’t fall down on that side of the argument.

Yes, this is leftover from the star system and the old days where men were men (who sometimes acted like boys) and women were women (who seldom felt comfortable trying to acting as powerfully as the guys did).  Plus, the more star categories the more stars you get to turn out and the more general attention you get.

Well then – why not increase the categories but do it by film genre (eg, comedy, drama, sci-fi, blockbusters).  Oh fine, I can see you all rolling your eyes from here.  But ask yourself – why?

G. AMERICAN HUSTLE HAIR (NON) RAISER – I’m a fan of American Hustle and am happy that it led the field, along with Gravity, with 10 Oscar nominations.  However, it clearly should have stood alone with 11 nods because the one category it wasn’t nominated in was the one in which it was a sure contender – BEST HAIR!!!!!

Fine, maybe this is because the category is technically titled makeup and hairstyling.  But then how do you account for the two other nominees aside from the obvious Dallas Buyers Club?  Those would be two films we like to call:  Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa and The Lone Ranger.

DO NOT tell me Bradley Cooper’s curlers, Christian Bale’s comb over and Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence’s use of hair spray alone don’t put AH at the top of this list.  Do NOT even go there because I will cut you…and where it counts.

Is there award out there for hardest working double-sided tape?

Is there award out there for hardest working double-sided tape?

H. GO FLY A KITE – This is the last time I will write it – Saving Mr. Banks is old-fashioned, corny and reduced me to tears all through the third act.  When a movie does that all subjective judgment gets shoved aside and I have to honestly report – I loved the film.  And, I guarantee you, I am not the only one in the entertainment industry, or among Oscar voters, who feels that way.

Don't worry Emma, you're still fab.

Don’t worry Emma, you’re still fab.

But here’s the issue – it’s not au currant or even publicly acceptable to just simply use emotion as the barometer for whether a movie is among those judged the best of the year.  I’m not sure why this is the case but it has been for more years than I can remember.

At the end of the day, I feel an obligation not to dismiss movies that are on the surface uncool but still manage to profoundly affect me for those two hours (more or less) I’m sitting in the theatre or at home.  I learned this decades ago as a film critic when in my heart of hearts I couldn’t give bad reviews to movies like Arthur Penn’s 1981 Four Friends – a film roundly criticized at the time for being old-fashioned and maudlin by most reviewers but one that I knew had affected me in profound ways despite its flaws.

Not so guilty pleasure

Not so guilty pleasure

In fact, when I close my eyes and think of the 1960s and 70s I can still hear Georgia on my Mind, the recurring theme song in that movie in honor of one of its lead character Georgia – the bohemian gal three high school age guys thought they were in love with.

I have no idea if Four Friends would affect you this way.  But what I do know is that it received 0.0 Oscar nominations, did not make much money at the box-office and has been largely forgotten.  But not by me.  Thirty-three years later it is one of the few films from that time that I have an immediate and profound emotional reaction to every time I see it.   That makes it a winner by any standard – Oscar nomination or not.  And clearly there are a lot more films in that category we might all want to remember as talk about the awards reach their inevitable frenzied pitch during the next few weeks

Write in and tell me yours.